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Palin’s Comments on ‘Death Boards’


Much has been made in the blogosphere and elsewhere about Sarah Palin’s warning against “death boards” in the current health-care reform proposals and labeling Obamacare generally an attempt to establish a “downright evil system.”

Palin’s language was, in my view, amateurish and hyperbolic. The Third Reich was an evil system. The Soviet Gulag also qualified. Taliban-style oppression of women, gays, and others, ditto. But the admittedly awful health-care reform bills currently being debated don’t come near to earning that opprobrium. As for “death boards,” that term is an overly provocative attempt to describe a key feature of the pending legislation about which there is very real cause for concern.

We don’t yet know what the final health-care reform bill will look like. But it appears certain that President Obama and his congressional allies hope to establish a centralized board or boards that would be charged with limiting costs by deciding which procedures and drugs would be covered, under what circumstances. The legitimate fear is that such boards, regardless of their benefits, would impose rationing based on invidious categories — such as age, disability, or other “quality of life” measurements. In other words, the boards would deny certain categories of patients treatment available to other categories of patients.

Palin is not being paranoid. Some of President Obama’s most influential health-care advisers have promoted rationing and quality-of-life judgmentalism. For example, Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel’s brother, has suggested that we can no longer afford Hippocratic medicine, laid the intellectual groundwork for rationing based on age, and even stated that medical services “provided to individuals who are irreversibly prevented from being or becoming participating citizens are not basic and should not be guaranteed.” (My analysis of Emanuel’s proposals can be found at my First Things blog.) No wonder Palin is worried about the level of treatment her son Trig would receive under Obamacare.

True, Palin would be a more effective critic of Obamacare if she didn’t write like a college-student blogger. But her concerns are legitimate and substantive. And that shouldn’t be lost in the criticism of her lexicon.

– Wesley J. Smith is a senior fellow in human rights and bioethics at the Discovery Institute, a special consultant to the Center for Bioethics and Culture, and the author of Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America. His next book, to be released in the fall, will be an exposé of the animal-rights movement.


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